“Wherever you need me,” he told coaches. “Wherever I can get a spot, I'll do it.”
That was at fullback, where Derek first primarily worked on the scout team. The junior was supposed to get in the Cowboys' September blowout of Lamar in the fourth quarter, before the Cardinals ate up the final 7:34 with a long drive.
But when Seaton sustained a head injury before the TCU game about three weeks ago, Branson took his place on special teams.
Branson admits he was nervous on his first play. But in that game, he came up with a critical early block that helped spring Josh Stewart's 95-yard return for a touchdown.
And the punt block in Lubbock wasn't the only key play he made on that night. He also had a downfield block on Stewart's 46-yard return that set up an important Cowboy score.
“People sleep on walk-ons and don't really realize how good they really are,” Stewart said. “Derek Branson is one of those guys where he can make a play at any time like he did on that punt block.
“That's special. That's the type of stuff that people are gonna remember that can be a game-changer.”
After the game, Branson estimated he had about 100 text messages, including some from folks he hadn't heard from in years. Same for Kim and Patti — who were sitting in the OSU section at Jones AT&T Stadium — as family and friends from Boston and California and Texas offered their congrats.
Derek said his dad even got a bit teary-eyed when they met after the game. But Kim most remembers Derek's smile, and how his teammates kept acknowledging his big play.
“A lot of kids would have packed it in after the Lamar game or any other opportunities that didn't surface,” Kim said. “But he's pretty resilient.
“He was gonna stick it out no matter what, and to get rewarded for that was I guess a relief for me to, from just a happiness for him perspective.”
Derek knows that Saturday night in Lubbock will become a lasting memory. Though he does wish he had finished off the scoop and score.
Moving forward, he expects even more out of himself, both on special teams, and, someday, on offense.
Which is why he doesn't exactly want that block against the Red Raiders to be his one shining walk-on moment.
“I think there's bigger things that I can accomplish, for sure,” he said. “But I think that's a good steppingstone into that direction. Gives me a little more confidence for every Saturday from here on out.”